Ten Easily Forgotten 1980s Science Fiction TV Series
Aliens, time travel, futuristic cops all add up to 80s TV science fiction fun!
Science fiction television series are plentiful and it's easy to see why Hollywood loves this genre; space aliens, time travel, robots, futuristic gadgets, ordinary folks being empowered with extraordinary abilities have made up the plot lines of many shows, some made it to hit status, others missed but not for lack of trying.
Let's take a look back at 10 television science fiction series that aired on ABC, CBS and NBC during the 1980's. Offering up photos, vintage TV Guide ads, basic plot line, trivia and more to help us along this journey back in time.
Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories
- Air Date: September 29, 1985 – May 15, 1987
- Network: NBC September 1985-June 1986 Sun 8:00-8:30, June 1986-February 1987 Monday 8:30-9:00, May 1987 Friday 8:30:9:00
- Episodes: 45 episodes (2 seasons)
- Plot: Amazing Stories was an anthology series that was a nice blending of genres like science fiction, fantasy and even horror. Created by legendary director Steven Spielberg. It used a variety of directors, among them Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Danny DeVito, Robert Zemeckis to just name a few.
- The budget for each episode was between $800,000 and 1 million dollars.
- In order to lure Speilberg back to television (his first success in television was directing the 1971 Duel a classic ABC Movie of the Week) NBC purchased 44 episodes (2 seasons) of Amazing Stories.
- The show ended its first season in 35th place in the ratings, going up against Murder, She Wrote on CBS.
- NBC realized the show appealed to younger viewers, but wanted to move it away from its "kiddie orientation". The second season would feature more "human comedy" and would lessen its "silly factor".
- For the first season, Spielberg contributed 16 of the story ideas. The other eight came from his associates.
- Amazing Stories was a way for Spielberg to make use of the many small "nuggets" of ideas he had that were simply too thin and not able to sustain a full length feature film.
- Some critics said the only thing wrong with the series was the title. None of the stories were really all that amazing, instead many were just filled with "cliches, sentimentally and ordinary hokum".
Desi Arnaz, Jr and Chuck Wagner in Automan
- Air Date: December 15, 1983 to April 2, 1984
- Network: ABC Dec 1983-January 1984 8:00-9:00 Thursday. March 1984 to April 1984 8:00 to 9:00 Monday.
- Episodes: 13 filmed, but only 12 aired during the series initial run. The last episode did air, years later on The Sci Fi Channel.
- Plot: Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz, Jr) always wanted to be a street cop, but his superiors felt he was better suited to use his skills as a computer programmer. Not wanting to give up his dream of fighting crime, he creates an automatic man, an artificially intelligent crime fighting program that takes the shape of a hologram in the form of Automan (Chuck Wagner). Walter was able to merge with Automan to become one being.
- Basically, Automan is everything that Walter has always wanted to be, he is Walter's alter-ego.
- Was compared to the feature film Tron.
Sam Jones and Jacko in The Highwayman
- Air date: March 4, 1988 to May 6, 1988
- Network/Time: NBC March 1988-April 1988 8:00-9:00 Friday. April 1988 to May 1988 9:00-10:00 Friday
- Episodes: The pilot plus 9
- William Conrad an actor best known for his work as the 70s television detective Cannon, did the opening narration.
- Plot: An action-adventure series that starred Sam J. Jones (remember him as Flash Gordon) as a "highwayman" a futuristic federal marshal who was "empowered" to right wrongs where ordinary laws couldn't reach. Partnered with Jetto (Jacko, a big Australian dude who, for a while, advertised batteries on American TV, setting one on his shoulder and daring you to knock it off). The Highwayman roamed the the countryside in his big high tech 18 wheeler that was heavily armed (did you expect less) and almost impregnable. The cab converted into a helicopter when the need arose. For a while, at least in the pilot episode the truck could also become invisible.
- Co-starring Tim Russ and Jane Badler and it did have a catchy theme song.
Simon MacCorkindale as Professor Jonathan Chase in Manimal
- Air Date: September 30, 1983 to December 31, 1983
- Network/Time: NBC September 1983-November 1983 9:00-10:00 Friday December 1983 9:00-10:00 Saturday
- Episodes: 8
- The show was scheduled to air against CBS ratings power house, Dallas.
- Plot: Professor Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale) inherited, from his late father, the ability to transform himself into animals. To the unsuspecting population he was a cultured college professor who taught animal behavioral sciences at a New York university. To the police he was a valued consultant in the use of animals in police work. The transformations were at will as he had total control over what he transformed into. Only two other humans knew of his secret. Tye Earle (Michael D. Roberts) his friend whom he served with in Vietnam and Brooke McKenzie, a police detective who discovered his ability by accident.
- The series was ranked by TV Guide as one of worst TV shows of all time, getting the number 15 slot out of 50 shows.
- John Javna author of The Best of Science Fiction TV included the show on his Worst Science Fiction Shows of All Time listing.
- Sadly, handsome Simon died October 14, 2010 from cancer, he was only 58 years old.
Dean Paul Martin and Courteny Cox in The Misfits of Science
- Air Date: October 4, 1985- February 21, 1986
- Network: NBC October 1985 -December 1985 9:00-10:00 December 1985-February 1986 8:00-9:00
- Episodes: 16 and not available on DVD.
- Plot: This fun filled adventure fantasy series followed the adventures of teens who found themselves possessing bizarre physical abilities. They were being studied by the Los Angeles Humanidyne Institute headed by Dr. Billy Hayes (Dean Paul Martin) and his co worker Elvin "El" Lincoln (Kevin Peter Hall) a 7-foot 4 inch man who had the ability to shrink down to six inches high. The teens, Johnny B. (Mark Thomas Miller) was a rock musician who once zapped himself with 20,000 volts while onstage. Instead of dying he was now capable of shooting electricity from his fingers. Gloria (Courteney Cox) was a reformed delinquent who had telekinetic powers and could levitate objects. Of course, with folks who had abilities like these, it seemed only natural that they would be crime fighting super heroes of sorts.
- Cox, of course, would go on to star in the mega hit series Friends. Handsome Dean Paul Martin (son of legendary actor and crooner Dean Martin) would die in a military plane crash March 21, 1987 at age 35 and gentle giant, Kevin Peter Hall would die April 10, 1991 at age 35 of AIDS-related pneumonia. He had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion..
- Also co-starred Max Wright, Jennifer Holmes,Diane Civita and Mickey Jones (only in the pilot episode)
- Arnold "Beef"/"Ice Man" Beifneiter, the character portrayed by actor Mickey Jones had the ability to freeze anything he touched. Marvel comics objected to this character as they had a member of the X-Men team with the same super power.
In 1899 Sheriff John Grail and a Band of Outlaws Time Travel to 1986!
- Air Date: December 28, 1986 to May 30, 1987
- Network/Time: CBS December 1986 9:00-11:00 Pilot Sunday, January-May 1987 8:00-9:00 Saturday
- Episodes: 12
- Plot: What do you get when you mix together the ideas of time travel with a Western flavor and add that to a detective drama, you get Outlaws. In 1899, Sheriff John Grail (Rod Taylor) of Texas was leading a posse after a gang of bank robbers lead by Harland Pike (William Lucking) a gang that he had at one time, been a member of before deciding to go straight and become a lawman. Caught in a strange electrical storm in a Native American burial ground, Grail and the Pike gang find themselves going through time to end up in modern day Texas. Not knowing what else to do, and trying hard to fit into their new surroundings, Gail is able to talk the men into buying a ranch. They name it the Double Eagle Ranch and then they open a detective agency called The Double Eagle Detective Agency. These men then bring back old fashioned justice to this new era. They wore new outfits that were replicas of their old clothes, they used their own old weapons, and always got their man. Lt. Maggie Randall befriended the gang, tried her best to keep them out of trouble and also had a little bit of a soft spot for Grail.
- Also starred Charles Napier as Wolfson "Wolf" Lucus, Patrick Houser as Billy Pike, Richard Roundtree as Isaiah "Ice" McAdams and Christina Belford as Lt. Maggie Randall
Judson Scott as Bennu in The Phoenix
- Air Date: March 19, 1982-April 16, 1982/ August 1982-September 1982
- Network/Time: ABC March 1982-April 1982 9:00-10:00 Friday, August 1982-September 1982 8:00-9:00 Wednesday
- Episodes: 90 minute pilot and 4 regular episodes.
- Plot: Bennu (Judson Scott) was a space alien who had landed on earth some 1,500 years before. He came from a dying civilization and was acting a scout. He had been entombed in a Pre-Incan sarcophagus in the Andes when a scientist found him and revived him. His goal was to find his mate, Mira, who was buried in some ancient burial ground in North America. Only she knew the true purpose of this scouting mission. He had wondrous powers like telepathy, the ability to levitate, clairvoyance, had a high intelligence and more. He wore an amulet around his neck that was empowered by the sun. He spoke a lot about the environment and how precious it was and how it needed to be cared for. Bennu was on the run from Justin Preminger (Richard Lynch) who worked for the government and wished to capture him, but Bennu was always one step ahead of him.
- ABC didn't do much hype for the pilot episode, but it did a good job in the ratings and received a lot of positive fan mail.
- ABC was hesitant to put a new super hero on the air who operated from a purely metaphysical realm.
- Sadly, the show went up against rating power house Dallas on CBS and was quickly cancelled.
Peter Barton starred in The Powers of Matthew Star
- Air Date: September 17, 1982-September 11, 1983
- Network/Time: NBC September 1983-August 1983 8:00-9:00 Friday, August 1983-September 1983 7:00-8:00 Sunday
- Episodes: 22
- Plot: Matthew Star (Peter Barton) looked like any other high school student at Crestridge High, but he was really a prince from the planet Quandris. His father, the ruler of the planet had been overthrown by tryrants and he sent him to Earth so that his powers of telepathy and telekinesis could develop. Then, when the time was right, he would go back to his planet and fight to regain control. Matthew wasn't alone here on earth, he had a guardian in the guise of Walt Shephard (Lou Gossett, Jr) who worked at the school as a science teacher. The pair were constantly on the watch out for Quadrian forces who were seeking to kill Matthew.
- This series was originally scheduled to premiere in the fall of 1981, but when Peter Barton fell onto some pyrotechnics while filming a scene, he was badly burned and had to spend several months in the hospital.
- In 2002, TV Guide listed this show as Number 22 on their 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time list.
Joe Cortese and Maryam D'Abo Know Something is Out There!
- Air Date: October 21, 1988 to December 9, 1988
- Network/Time: NBC October 1988-November 1988 9:00-10:00 Friday, November 1988-December 1988 8:00-9:00 Friday
- Episodes: 13
- Plot: The series started out as a fairly successful mini series. Jack Breslin (Joe Cortese) was a cop who had to figure out who or what was killing humans and removing their organs. He met lovely space alien Tara (Maryam d'Abo) who was a medical officer on the space ship where the killer, a horrible space monster, was kept, but who managed to escape to earth. It was up to the duo to stop it and save the earth, which they did. The series went on to focus on the relationship between Tara (she posed as his cousin) and it strayed from it's science fiction theme going into a more supernatural aspect with many of the cases to follow dealing with things like psychics and telepathy.
- The show went up against Dallas and fared horribly in the ratings, it was then scheduled against Beauty and the Beast and did even worse in the ratings, if that was possible.
- The series garnered consistently low ratings, even thought the mini-series that inspired it was a ratings winner. One critic suspected that the show's failure to take off in the ratings was the story lines which consisted of violent and gory deaths. It's amazing how just 20 years later, these kinds of television shows are the norm and very popular. Don't know what that says about society, do you? :)
- Something is Out There was created by Frank Lupo (who gave us such classic shows as The A-Team, Riptide and Hunter).
Robert Hayes Was the Starman
- Air Date: September 19, 1986- September 4, 1987
- Network/Time: ABC September 1986-March 1987 10:00-11:00 Friday, March 1987-May 1987 8:00-9:00 Saturday, June 1987 10:00-11:00 Saturday, July 1987 8:00-9:00 Saturday, Augusut 1987-September 1987 10:00-11:00 Friday
- Episodes: 22
- Plot:The continuation of the big screen film of the same name. The events of the show take place 15 years after the film's end. Starman returns to earth in search of the boy he fathered years ago. He has no corporeal body of his own, so he assumes the body of Paul Forrester (Robert Hayes) a photojournalist who died in a plane crash. He then goes about searching for his son, Scott (D.B. Barnes) who is now in an orphanage as his mother, Jenny, had disappeared years go. Scott is a bit skeptical about his fathers alien origins until he began to see the strange supernatural kinds of abilities began to develop within himself; the power to levitate things, unlock doors without needing keys, etc.. They then decide to go in search of Jenny and it's through these adventures that Paul (Starman) learns about life a a human, through some rather comical interactions at times. As they travel they interact with different people and become embroiled in all kinds of drama. But, they can never stay in one place for too long as a government agent, George Fox (Michael Cavanaugh) is seeking to capture Paul and take him into custody so he can be tested and studied and have all of his secrets discovered.
- This is one series that did get a chance to have a decent conclusion before being cancelled, after 22 episodes, Jenny was found in the guise of lovely Erin Gray.
© 2015 Glory Miller